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Criminal Justice: Philosophies of Corrections


This paper discusses the significance of the Religious, Mental Health, and Educational programs within the penal paradigm (in the US), assessed through the lenses of the Deterrence, Incapacitation, Punishment/Retribution, Restorative Justice, and Rehabilitation philosophies of corrections. It also provides some discursive insights into what accounts for the main obstacles in the way of these programs’ successful implementation.

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For the implementation of the Religious, Mental Health, and Educational programs within the penology subdomain of the US Department of Justice to be effective, those in charge of the process must have a clear view of what accounts for the would-be associated objectives. In this respect, it will prove rather indispensable for the concerned individuals to be able to access these programs through the conceptual lenses of the Deterrence (1), Incapacitation (2), Punishment/Retribution (3), Restorative Justice (4), and Rehabilitation (5) philosophies of corrections. This paper is meant to exemplify how this could be done in practice. The paper will also discuss what can be deemed the main issues within the context of how the penology paradigm in the US continues to undergo a qualitative transformation.

Correctional Education Programs

The main purpose of correctional education programs is to provide inmates with yet additional incentive to refrain from becoming involved in criminal activities in the aftermath of having served time in jail. This particular objective is reflective of the fact that, as many sociological studies indicate, the higher is the level of a particular prisoner’s educational attainment, the less likely it would be for him or her to consider doing anything illegal, once a free person.

The Correctional Education Association (CEA) sets the all-national standards for the design and sub-sequential implementation of correctional education programs. CEA is in the position to enforce its executive decisions with respect to these programs on the state and federal levels.

  1. The implementation of correctional education programs will prove detrimental to the very rationale of subjecting convicts to criminal punishments, as such, that is supposed to serve the purpose of discouraging people from becoming affiliated with crime (Verboon & van Dijke, 2012).
  2. Providing convicts with the opportunity to increase their educational level will only make sense for as long as it does not result in causing the concerned individuals to be more eligible for parole than the rest.
  3. Educating convicted criminals is rather inappropriate because such a practice is clearly inconsistent with the concept of Retributive justice, which presupposes that the main purpose of keeping convicts incarcerated is to make them suffer (Wenzel, Okimoto, Feather & Platow, 2008).
  4. The Restorative outlook on the significance of correctional education is generally supportive of the idea. The reason for this is that there is assumed a positive correlation between the level of a criminal’s educational attainment and his or her ability to serve the community, as deemed appropriate by the court of law.
  5. The Rehabilitative model of corrections is the most supportive of the idea that prisoners should be taught different trades (Palermo, 2011). In its turn, this has to do with the well-established fact that the better educated a particular inmate happens to be, the more likely will it be for him or her to be able to reintegrate into the society after being released.

Religious Programs

The adoption of religious programs within the country’s penology domain is undertaken to comply with the legal provisions of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of (RFRA), and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which entitle convicts to the right to enjoy the unrestricted freedom of religious expression while ‘doing time.’

The American Correctional Association (ACA) is in charge of exercising general control over the enactment of religious programs in jails. As practice indicates, the main challenge in this respect is to strike a steady balance making it possible for inmates to take full advantage of such their right, on the one hand, and eliminating the possible preconditions for these individuals to be trying to abuse it, on the other.

  1. The integration of religious programs in the penology paradigm may be circumstantially appropriate – especially when the cases of administering the death penalty are concerned.
  2. Prisoners indeed have the right to practice their religious beliefs and to be provided with religious counseling. However, accommodating sentenced convicts in this respect cannot be achieved at the expense of burdening the jail’s budget too much (Brodeur, 2007).
  3. The practice of making it possible for prisoners to attend the religious services of their choice is thoroughly appropriate. However, being concerned with the monotheistic conceptualization of justice, the Retributive model of corrections presupposes that the Christian, Muslim, and Hebrew inmates will be privileged above others in this regard (Strelan, Feather & McKee, 2011).
  4. The advocates of the Restorative philosophy of correctional justice do not have much to say on the subject matter. One of the reasons for this is that this philosophy implies that religion plays a rather marginal role within the correctional process (Rodogno, 2008).
  5. In light of what accounts for the Rehabilitative model’s main postulates, the integration of religious programs in the correctional process may only have a minor effect on increasing the measure of this process’s effectiveness.

Mental Health Programs

The enactment of these programs is expected to increase the quality and expand the scope of health care services provided to inmates. Among the organizations in charge of designing and implementing mental health programs in jails can be named the American Correctional Association (ACA), American Medical Association (AMA), American Public Health Association (APHA), and American Psychiatric Association (APA).

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There is still much uncertainty as to what can be deemed the most effective strategy for incorporating mental health programs into America’s correctional paradigm. As of today, prison staff is expected to refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders when it comes to identifying and categorizing mental abnormalities in inmates.

  1. When assessed within the conceptual framework of the Deterrence philosophy of corrections, spending money on the institutionalization of mental health services in jails will appear, making very little sense. The reason for this is that this philosophy does not endorse the application of the person-centered correctional treatments (Tittle, Botchkovar & Antonaccio, 2011).
  2. The Incapacitation theory of corrections does endorse the idea of subjecting prisoners to mental assessments. However, it stands opposed to the Constructivist idea that many forms of anti-social mental deviance in inmates should be decriminalized.
  3. According to the Retributive outlook on criminal punishment, convicts must ‘do time,’ regardless of what used to be the social/psychological circumstances of relevance at the time when they were caught committing a crime. This largely discredits the idea that it is necessary requiring convicted criminals to undergo mental checkups (Sims, 2009).
  4. The Restorative model supports the integration of mental health policies in the correctional treatment, for as long as this does not result in making the affected prisoners less socially liable (Dzur, 2003).
  5. The adherents of the Rehabilitative philosophy are strongly in favor of applying a correctional effort into ensuring the mental adequacy of inmates, as the important precondition for them to be able to become the society’s productive members eventually.


Even though policymakers in the US are now in the position to have a better understanding of how different correctional strategies should be combined for their practical deployment to result in reducing the crime rate in America, the country’s already world largest population of prisoners continues to increase rather rapidly. In its turn, this can be explained by the inconsistency between the growing popularity of the Rehabilitative philosophy of corrections, on the one hand, and the fact that the practical implementation of many of this philosophy’s provisions often proves utterly unfeasible, on the other. After all, the very term ‘corrections’ denotes the possibility of rehabilitation for the ‘corrected’ convicts (Carlson, 2014). At the same time, however, the penal system in the US continues to become increasingly corporatized – the process that results in promoting the agenda of those who believe that the incapacitation of criminals is the main function of criminal punishment (Jurik, 2004). This, of course, leaves only a few doubts that the issue does require much attention, on the part of the high-ranking politicians/governmental officials in this country.

Custody & Care Programs

The earlier mentioned programs belong to the category of Custody & Care programs, the implementation of which is expected to increase the efficiency of the country’s correctional system, in the sense of ensuring that upon being released from the jail, a former inmate would be truly ‘corrected.’ This again exposes the unmistakably Rehabilitative philosophy behind the formulation of such a penal objective. In this respect, the assumption is that the stronger is the person’s ties to the community, the less likely it would be for him or her to be willing to commit a crime. It is understood, of course, that this implies that the introduction of Custody & Care programs as an integral part of the Justice Department’s functioning was predetermined by the factor of ‘public interest’ exerting an ever-greater influence on the policy-making process in the domain of penology.

Since it is specifically the government, which is supposed to act on behalf of ‘public interest,’ this naturally presupposes that these programs should be governmentally funded. The objective reality, however, points out to something entirely opposite – as time goes on, Custody & Care programs are being increasingly used by the private contractors to generate profits. As McShane (2012) noted, “Virtually nonexistent thirty years ago, they (Custody & Care programs) are now commonplace components of the criminal justice system. Almost all are private, and many are run for profit, deriving both their clients and their income from contracts with local government” (p. 139). As a result, the rehabilitation-related societal objectives of the earlier mentioned programs continue to remain essentially declarative.

It is understood, of course, that such a situation can hardly be deemed tolerable. One of the possible ways to address the situation is to impose stricter governmental control over the functioning of the country’s Justice System.

Role of Correctional Facilities

As of today, the role of correctional facilities in the US is concerned with serving the utilitarian purpose of isolating criminals from society, as opposed to helping the latter on their way of trying to reintegrate back into it. This suggests that it is namely the principles of Retributive and Incapacitation justice that continue to define the qualitative aspects of the country’s currently enacted penology paradigm. Partially, this can be explained by the fact that even though the government continued to endorse the policy of multiculturalism for a few decades now, the public discourse in America remains explicitly Eurocentric. Therefore, it will only be logical to assume that the provisions of the Restorative and Rehabilitative concepts of criminal punishment should be referred to as such that represent mainly the theoretical rather than any practical value. This simply could not be otherwise – as practice shows, many America’s jails now function as the ‘hardening joints’ for convicts, rather than the places where these people are provided with the opportunity to learn how to act as the society’s productive members.


In light of what has been said earlier, it should prove thoroughly appropriate to conclude this paper by confirming the existence of a wide gap between theory and practice in the country’s penological domain – something that contributes rather substantially towards undermining the legitimacy of the Constructivist (Restorative/Rehabilitative) outlook on the origins of crime and the purpose of punishment. In its turn, this adds to the intensification of social tensions in the US. Therefore, it will only be logical to suggest that the time has come for the government to begin paying more attention to the issue in question.

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Brodeur, J. (2007). Comparative penology in perspective. Crime and Justice, 36(1), 49-91.

Carlson, P. (2014). Prison and jail administration: Practice and theory. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett.

Dzur, A. (2003). Civic implications of restorative justice theory: Citizen participation and criminal justice policy. Policy Sciences, 36(3), 279-306.

Jurik, N. (2004). Imagining justice: Challenging the privatization of public life. Social Problems, 51(1), 1-15.

McShane, M. (2012). The philosophy and practice of corrections. London: Routledge.

Palermo, G. (2011). Jail and prison overcrowding and rehabilitative justice programs. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 55(6), 843-845.

Rodogno, R. (2008). Shame and guilt in restorative justice. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 14(2), 142-176.

Sims, G. (2009). The criminalization of mental illness: How theoretical failures create real problems in the criminal justice system. Vanderbilt Law Review, 62(3), 1053-1083.

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Strelan, P., Feather, N., & McKee, I. (2011). Retributive and inclusive justice goals and forgiveness: The influence of motivational values. Social Justice Research, 24(2), 126-142.

Tittle, C., Botchkovar, E., & Antonaccio, O. (2011). Criminal contemplation, national context, and deterrence. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 27(2), 225-249.

Verboon, P., & van Dijke, M. (2012). Effect of perceived deterrence on compliance with authorities: The moderating influence of procedural justice. International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, 1(2), 151-161.

Wenzel, M., Okimoto, T., Feather, N., & Platow, M. J. (2008). Retributive and restorative justice. Law and Human Behavior, 32(5), 375-89.

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